The pipedream of reaching the final frontier is dead.
Following last weekend’s loss in Baltimore to the Ravens, the Patriots won’t be going 19-0, checking off the final box of the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era in the process.
Not all is lost, of course. At 8-1, New England still has a 1 ½ game lead over Baltimore for the No. 1 seed in the AFC and the homefield advantage throughout the playoffs that comes with it. Likewise, the Patriots are 1 ½ games in front of the Bills in the AFC East – and in possession of the tiebreaker to boot.
The 20 points New England scored against Baltimore were its second-fewest of the season, while its 37 points allowed – including a defensive touchdown for the Ravens – were far and away the most it’d yielded in 2019. Heck, the 37 points were more than the Patriots had allowed the entire month of October.
Still, the game wasn’t a total lost cause if you’re looking through Foxboro-crafted lenses.
Mohamed Sanu’s 10 catches are a big deal. Only five players had caught so much as eight passes from Brady within their first two games playing alongside him: Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Brandon Lloyd and Danny Amendola. The fact that Sanu joined the list less than two weeks after joining the team in the middle of the season, rather than in the off-season, is an accomplishment unto itself.
Brady trusted Sanu – along with Edelman – last Sunday with the offense in a tough spot, down 17 points early in the second quarter. Sanu caught his first touchdown pass from Brady, another promising sign that he’s garnering looks in the red zone.
“He worked really hard this week to really get up to speed and to play as much as he did,” Brady said after Sanu’s two-catch, 24-yard debut against the Browns a week earlier. “I think it’s just going to be more and more confidence as he keeps going. He made a huge catch for us on fourth down, had a good crosser that he made a nice catch on, so keep just trying to find ways to get him the ball.”
Sanu seems to have already entered the so-called “circle of trust” with Brady, a notoriously difficult sphere to crack.
Difficult as it may be to look past Edelman’s fumble returned for a touchdown by Marlon Humphrey against the Ravens, the fact remains that he’s been as productive and reliable as ever for the Patriots. The 33-year-old Edelman matched Sanu with 10 catches against Baltimore, requiring 11 targets to Sanu’s 14.
Edelman, the third-oldest wide receiver in the NFL, is on pace to establish new career highs in receptions (112) and receiving yards (1,178). With Sanu in the fold and Edelman attracting as much attention as ever, the Patriots could do worse than having Phillip Dorsett, James White, Jakobi Meyers and Ben Watson as secondary targets in the passing game.
New England’s much-maligned offensive line has reinforcements on the way, too. Saying the cavalry is coming upon Isaiah Wynn’s potential return would be a gross overstatement, given he’s missed 23 of a possible 25 games in his career to date, but he will instantly stand as an upgrade over journeyman Marshall Newhouse at left tackle.
The bye week will hopefully allow for right guard Shaq Mason to return to as close to 100% health wise as possible, too; while Mason played every offensive snap against Baltimore, he sat out the team’s win over Cleveland a week earlier with an ankle injury and has regressed a bit from the All Pro form he showed a season ago.
Chalk up the Patriots’ defensive performance against the Ravens as an aberration until proven otherwise. It’s slightly concerning that each of New England’s next four opponents (the Eagles, Cowboys, Texans and Chiefs) all possess mobile quarterbacks, a la Lamar Jackson, in Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, but Belichick has already put his defense on notice. Adjustments are coming out of the bye.
“We had our moments, but in the end, they did more than we did,” Belichick said after the Ravens game. “We just have to do a better job. It’s not any one thing or any one play or player or scheme or anything. We just have to coach better and have to play better.”
Even if the worst-case scenario were to arise over the next few weeks – let’s call it 2-2 – that still puts the Patriots on the fast track for 13-3. Have you seen how they end the season?
• Week 15: at Cincinnati (0-8)
• Week 16: vs. Buffalo (6-2)
• Week 17: vs. Miami (1-7)
New England isn’t going to lose to the Bills at home in Week 16, not when the chance to clinch homefield throughout the playoffs is on the line, and not when the Bills have never won a meaningful game at Gillette Stadium. Buffalo’s only win in Foxboro since the turn of the century came in Week 17 of the 2014 season, when Jimmy Garoppolo took the majority of the snaps under center with the top seed already locked up.
New England had a frustrating loss prior to its bye week in 2018 as well, a 34-10 loss to the Titans which, frankly, was 10 times as appalling as this loss to the Ravens, who are a legitimate postseason contender. We know how last season turned out.
It never feels good to have to sit on a loss for one week, let alone two. These Patriots unquestionably deserve the benefit of the doubt, however. If a nearly two-decade sample size isn’t enough to tell you as much, what can?